Pablo and Me

How did Kanye West do it? He made (maybe “coordinated” or “orchestrated” are better terms) a record in collaboration with a plethora of modern music’s biggest hitters in the public’s eye. Chaos ensued, both on the album and surrounding its release–but it wasn’t bad?

The week leading up to The Life of Pablo‘s release, my friend (who doubles as the auteur behind my blog’s design) and I discussed our shared confusion behind Kanye’s rollout of the album. There had been silence on the GOOD Fridays front, yet the album was done and the title of it ebbed and flowed among seemingly random words and phrases. Another friend of his said that the marketing was genius and caused people to talk about it. Instead of feeling interested I felt alienated, but I can see how the air of confusion I breathed tasted like mystery to others. Okay, Yeezy Season 3 was premiering in Madison Square Garden, a display of the music along with his new fashion line made sense. But then the album wasn’t out like he said it would be (blame Chance). That weekend it was on Tidal, the streaming service best described as “meh.” Oh, and if you didn’t sleep a wink you might’ve been able to buy it on his Web site, supposedly, but that changed just as quickly as its title.

A year ago, “Only One” excited me. Then the lukewarm “Facts” followed it just as the clock struck midnight for this New Year, but it was still something. “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in L.A.” inspired more faith in me for the final product, but West seemed to become more manic towards the end of his record’s creation. No one knew what to anticipate and, to some extent, that’s expected with him; but on the other end, his behavior (a tweet about Bill Cosby and the infamous Taylor Swift lyric in “Famous,” to note just two) was offensive and worrisome. He was losing it all while teasing the follow-up to the divisive yet brazen Yeezus (2013).

But he pulled it off, for the most part. Last night I stayed up to listen to Pablo completely and without interruption. Not only did I want to write something about the album but I also thought its chaos deserved a down and dirty listening party with a gut reaction (hopefully this reflection doesn’t feel as slapdash as the album’s process appeared to be). The “gospel” aspect of the record was pretty (namely the opener “Ultralight Beam”) but overall not as present as I would have liked. Of course his beats were on point, yet the guest spots seemed to shine more than he did. Looking at the credits one can see that this was a collaborative effort and not just West’s own doing. Some lyrics were plain pathetic (the entirety of “I Love Kanye”) while others were extremely misogynistic (“Famous,” “30 Hours,” and more); but I don’t feel comfortable or knowledgeable enough to comment in my privileged position as a white man to discuss those as they truly deserve. Anna Acosta’s op-ed on speaks loads more than I ever could.

One quickly can see how mixed the record is. Sometimes it feels more like a collection of singles as opposed to a cohesive album, which is not bad but certainly exhausting to listen to and enjoy in one sitting. The Life of Pablo will remain interesting to contend with and dissect as months go on (already there’s a new, maybe leaked version of “Wolves”), which means the replay value is strong for the time being. Kanye certainly made a splash with his new record but only time will tell if the waves it made were good, bad, or worth all the attention in the first place.